OCD in the Workplace

Austin Morgan

Table of Contents

“Oh, I’m so OCD” is a common phrase many people will say when in reality they are not. But actual OCD has several causes, criteria, symptoms and pathology. When legitimate OCD enters the workplace, employers need to adapt.

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What Is OCD in the Workplace?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is more than being particular about how you make your bed or straighten papers on a desk. All employees may have some habits or OCD-like thoughts, but it’s very different from a legitimate diagnosis.

According to WebMD, people with OCD have thoughts or actions that:

  • Take up at least an hour a day.
  • Are beyond their control.
  • Are not enjoyable.
  • Interfere with work, social life or another part of life.

Typically an obsession (like a fear of germs) will drive a compulsive behavior (constantly cleaning). Imagine if an office receptionist spent an hour each workday wiping down the keyboard of germs and could not complete their normal duties. Now imagine an employee in each department or team with these OCD behaviors. Because efficiency and cost management are important, employers must learn to work with OCD.

What Does OCD in the Workplace Look Like?

Whether you are front-line staff or an executive, OCD can affect any employee. Howard Hughes was worth over $11 billion in today’s dollars as an aviation business giant and suffered from severe OCD. This list is a brief overview of behaviors you may observe in individuals with OCD in your workplace.

  • Obsessive hand hygiene. Howard Hughes’s OCD caused him to wash his hands until they bled. This obsessive attitude toward germs created his compulsive cleaning habit. When working in an office, employees may overly utilize hand sanitizer or wash their hands beyond normal standards.
  • Dramatic organization. Some employees may be obsessive about organization due to personal anxiety. In response, they may be compulsive arrangers of office supplies. An employee could see a company copier room as an epicenter of anxiety. This employee could spend hours organizing supplies and reorganizing anytime someone leaves the room.
  • Frustration in meetings. While many habits are expressed outwardly and can be easily identified, other habits are more subtle. If there is an agenda for a team meeting, an employee with OCD could become dysregulated if the detailed order is not followed. This could be expressed by shifting in their seat constantly, being distracted from the topic of conversation, or having outbursts attempting to bring the conversation back to the sequential order of the agenda.

How Does OCD in the Workplace Affect the Company?

OCD can affect companies in different ways depending on the industry, company size, and how many employees are affected by OCD.

Work Production

The main effect is work efficiency. While in most cases, more time means more production, when an employee is spending excessive time on OCD behaviors, they are not doing their job duties.

If an employee is distracted one hour per workday, they will waste five hours per week or 261 hours per year. If this employee makes $20 per hour, that is over $5,200 in paid time that the company loses.

Team Cohesion

When a team has one or several members with OCD, it can be difficult to create team norms and performance. With the repetitive and intense habits of OCD employees, meetings may have to be run in a certain way and tasks completed in a specific order before the employee can move on to the next item of business. These extra steps can cause non-OCD employees frustration or job dissatisfaction. Extra precaution and preparation should be taken to help teams function with OCD employees present.

Customer Satisfaction

Like the difficulties mentioned above in creating team cohesion, OCD employees can impact customer satisfaction. For example, in a call center, OCD employees may have a hard time adapting their support to the needs of a customer. If the employee feels the need to complete a task in a specific way that does not match what the customer desires, satisfaction declines. This behavior can include repeating steps or procedures and trying to force the customer to give information in a specific order.

Best Methods to Support Employees with OCD

Employees with OCD are capable of bringing value to a company. There are several best ways to support them.

Communicate with Their Team

When an employee with OC is added to a team or an employee is joining a team with OCD members, communication is everything. Setting accurate expectations for the team regarding how OCD employees operate and what support they need is critical. The team can prepare themselves mentally or even adjust their operation norms to accommodate OCD. This can lower team frustration and provide a common ground for development. If there is a manager of the team, they can use their skills to establish trust and accountability for all team members and keep conflicts from becoming too hard to control.

Train the Employee

When OCD employees bring their condition to the attention of managers or HR, use this to the company’s advantage. Managers should spend regular time with the employee on training. This training can cover analyzing their skills sets to select jobs that highlight their abilities. In addition, the manager can teach them communication skills to effectively communicate with their team. Lastly, creating a safe environment for intervention is necessary. Providing constructive feedback on how their OCD is affecting their work and how they can improve will help them remain effective.

Another method is to pair an OCD employee with an OCD mentor who volunteers to help because they learned to adapt their OCD to the workplace or have worked with similar employees. This may create an environment of collaboration that is more comfortable for the employee. Individuals with OCD may learn with greater depth from those who experienced a similar situation and succeeded.

Treat the Employee Similarly to Others

Although companies should do their best to create opportunities for OCD employees to succeed, it should be done in a consistent way. For example, if a company has a written documentation policy for job mistakes, all employees (including those with OCD) should be held to that standard. When an OCD employee fails to complete their job duties, they should go through the same process as others. Additionally, when an OCD employee is successful, they should receive the same amount of praise as others. At the end of the day, creating objective and equal opportunities for all is one of the best ways to manage OCD.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About OCD in the Workplace

Should employees disclose to their employers that they have OCD?
In short, yes, an employee should disclose OCD as a disability so employers can disuss reasonable accommodation and avoid disability discrimination. Most job applications (https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/job-applicants-and-ada) ask, “Can you perform the job’s duties with or without reasonable accommodations?” According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “An applicant with a disability, like all other applicants, must be able to meet the employer’s requirements for the job, such as education, training, employment experience, skills, or licenses. In addition, an applicant with a disability must be able to perform the ‘essential functions’ of the job, the fundamental duties either on her own or with the help of ‘reasonable accommodation.’ However, an employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that will cause ‘undue hardship,’ which is significant difficulty or expense.”
Can an employee be fired due to OCD?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act -https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-americans-with-disabilities-act/ (ADA), employees with OCD are protected from discrimination. ADA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to state and local government employers. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. In short, employees cannot be fired for simply having OCD. Firing an employee would need to be based on documented failures to accomplish job duties over a period of time.
Can OCD be managed in the workplace?
The best way to manage OCD in the workplace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8Jofzx_8p4) is to know your employees. If there are certain triggers to an employee’s obsessive tendencies, determine if there is a better position for them. Additionally, do the best you can to help team members be prepared and aware of how to work with OCD without involuntarily revealing who the employee with OCD is.
Austin Morgan

Austin became the HR Director at Discovery Connections in 2021. Before that he worked as an Account Manager for a Section 125 benefits and COBRA administrator. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Exercise Science in 2019 and from Southern Utah University with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership in 2021. At end of 2021, he became certified with SHRM-CP.

Originally from Oklahoma, Austin enjoys trying new foods in new places he travels to, watching college football, and snowboarding the local resorts in Utah. He has been married to his wife since 2019 and owns a cockapoo named Hershey.

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